The sword was made out of flattened bicycle handlebars, with PVC pipe melted onto one end for a handle.
The owner of the crudely fashioned weapon used it to protect himself in a dark underworld of homeless drug addicts.
He also used it to cut down fruit from backyard trees along the river channel to sell on the street for money, or to eat himself.
The sword was among a handful of weapons and drug paraphernalia seized by Garden Grove police officers during an early morning operation early this month in a flood control channel at Brookhurst and 13th streets.
But the Dec. 3 operation wasn’t designed to round up and toss a bunch of people in jail.
Rather, it was part of the GGPD’s ongoing efforts to proactively reach out to the city’s homeless population and try to get them help — and also to clear the channels ahead of predicted, and possibly deadly, El Niño-fueled flooding.
“We can arrest them all day long,” Officer Brian Hatfield said at a briefing, “but until they get linked up to some program or shelter…they will continue to be out there.”
Hatfield, in August, organized the GGPD’s first Homeless Outreach day, which included social workers, mental health professionals, veteran affairs workers and, since the concrete channel is technically county property, a county public works cleanup crew and members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (click here to read story).
This second Homeless Outreach day targeted a population of known drug abusers who possibly would be hostile toward cops.
“Police! Come out with your hands up!”
Several officers entered the channel under Brookhurst Street, which is divided into three separate tunnels. In each tunnel were couches and mattresses on palettes to keep them off the damp and cold concrete.
There were bicycles and 5-gallon plastic containers used for drinking water and also as urinals.
There were propane stoves.
Cardboard boxes had been broken down to serve as barriers for privacy and as protection against wind.
A huge pile of trash and debris had been accumulated to block, or at least slow, rain-driven water.
After the officer issued his order, three men who had been sleeping under Brookhurst Street emerged into the early morning daylight.
Soon, others made their way over to EZ-UPs that had been erected in a parking lot behind a strip mall whose tenants include a restaurant, hardware store and hair salon.
Transitional housing, drug and alcohol rehab, mental health services, bus passes — representatives from a handful of social service organizations were on hand to link the men (and one woman) up to these and similar resources.
Garden Grove PD Officer Kevin Dinh served as translator for many of the detainees, most of whom, he said, were longtime users of heroin or meth.
Most were familiar to Dinh as a regular beat officer. He recognized one man, 21, who has been living on the streets since he was 15.
Samantha Pence, a case manager with Volunteers of America’s Greater Los Angeles office in Santa Ana, took her place at a table.
“I’m Samantha,” she told the man sitting across from her. “Here are some resources for you.”
The man told her he wanted to go to jail.
Dinh chimed in.
“Hey look, man,” he said. “These people are trying to help you.”
The man, 44, said he didn’t drink but that he uses drugs. He said he has been in rehab three times for methamphetamine addiction and was kicked out the last time for fighting.
He told Pence he was willing to give rehab another shot.
“I want help,” he said.
Margaret “Peg” Peterson, a mental health specialist with the Orange County Health Care Agency who works closely with the GGPD, was on hand to assess some of the detainees.
Also offering help was Tiffany Ranney, an outreach coordinator with StepHouse Recovery in Fountain Valley, and Robert Buchanan, veterans outreach coordinator with the Orange County Rescue Mission.
One man had no ID. Ranney said she could try to help him obtain one so he could at least get food stamps.
She told Kevin, the 21-year-old who has been on the streets since he was 15: “You don’t have to live like this, OK? You deserve better.”
She asked Kevin what he was good at.
“Nothing,” he quietly replied.
“I’m not going to let you out of your chair unless you tell me what you’re good at.”
Kevin took a moment and then said, “I learn fast.”
“That’s good,” Ranney told him. “Many companies want to hire a person who’s a fast learner.”
Hatfield assisted fellow GGPD Officer Rafael Loera with coordinating the Dec. 3 outreach effort.
A few months ago, Loera launched a Crime Triangle Project focusing on homeless/transient issues in and around the flood control channel, said Garden Grove PD Lt. Bob Bogue.
By the end of the morning, the GGPD, whose detail team included 12 officers, three sergeants, two lieutenants and two community liaison members, contacted and escorted to the staging area under the EZ-UPs a total of 12 people.
Of those dozen, two ended up receiving assistance from Unidos Recovery Home of Garden Grove, Bogue said. Six were arrested for entering and remaining on private property without the written permission of the owner.
Four of the six were taken to Orange County Jail for warrants and other charges, Bogue said.
And the other individuals, he said, were offered assistance but refused to seek any of the services being provided.
“Officers Loera and Hatfield did an outstanding job coordinating the team outreach program,” Bogue said.
But as one officer pointed out during the operation: “These people have to want to end their situation, but at least we’re offering them other alternatives to jail.”